With so many running machine options, brands, and features, buyers are spoiled for choice. This can make choosing a treadmill quite a daunting task.
Fitness Savvy’s treadmill buyers guide aims to simplify the process, allowing you to choose the right treadmill confidently.
Before learning what to look for in a treadmill, you should consider your fundamental requirements.
Fundamental Treadmill Requirements
There’s no point in spending hours or days researching treadmills, finding one, and then discovering that it’s either too big, too expensive, or won’t help you meet your training goals.
You should follow three steps to ensure you start on the right foot.
Step 1 – Identify Your Training Goals
Are you training for a marathon or looking to get in some extra steps each day? Do you want to partake in HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or steady-state cardio?
Is cardio simply a supplement to your weight training program, or is it a core component? Are you a professional athlete or a beginner?
You should consider these things before setting out on your treadmill-buying journey.
Those looking to get some extra walking in on rainy days require something simple, with a smaller running deck and lower top speed. There’s no need to invest in a machine with a high top speed and large deck if you don’t need them.
On the other hand, if you’re preparing for hiking in the alps, you’ll need a machine with a steep incline feature.
Here’s our quick guide to essential features depending on common workout goals.
- Walking – if you’re doing nothing but walking, choose a machine with a lower top speed of 6 mph and a smaller running deck. Even taller people won’t need more than 18″ x 55″ of track.
- Jogging – joggers will need a higher top speed – up to 10 mph – and possibly a more advanced display console to manage their progress.
- Running – the top speed is perhaps the most important aspect for those focusing on running. Most mid to high-budget treadmills include a top speed of 12 mph. You’ll also need a larger running deck. The industry standard 20″ x 60″ should be fine.
- HIIT – HIIT (high-intensity interval training) requires periods of high intensity (sprinting) followed by rest periods (walking). You should opt for a machine with a higher top speed and a suitable console with HIIT workout options.
- Hiking – are you training for a mountain hike? If so, opt for a machine with a steep incline. The NordicTrack X32i incline trainer has an incredible 40% elevation and is currently the best-rated treadmill on our website.
Step 2 – Calculate Your Available Space
How much space do you have for your treadmill? It’s not as simple as measuring the machine’s footprint.
For safety purposes, you should always allow room on each side of the treadmill and behind.
Ideally, you should leave 50 – 60 cm of space on each side (about 0.5 meters or 2 feet).
You should allow four to six feet (120 – 180 cm) of space behind in case you fall while training.
Step 3 – Work out Your Budget
Unfortunately, most of us want more features than we can afford.
Luckily, even cheaper running machines pack some great features, so everyone should be able to find something that works.
The main things you’ll sacrifice on a lower budget are tech features, warranty, and motor power. The downside is that you risk burning out the motor – and with limited warranty cover, you might need to replace the entire machine after a couple of years. However, if the $600 machine saves you $1,000 in gym membership costs, it’s still a great investment.
After completing these three steps, you’ll know the maximum footprint, the highest amount you can spend, and the minimum specs to hit your training goals.
Now it’s time to learn what features you’ll encounter when buying a treadmill.
About Treadmill Features & Specs
Running Deck Size
The running deck size refers to the belt area.
Treadmills report this as W x L (width by length).
20″ x 60″ (50 cm x 150 cm) is the industry standard. Cheaper machines typically come with smaller belts.
If you’re only walking, an 18″ x 50″ belt will suffice for shorter users; however, taller people should aim for at least 55″ in length.
For high-speed running, you should never go below 20″ x 60″
Footprint & Foldability
We’ve touched on calculating your available space.
Given the clearance needed on either side and behind the treadmill, leaving it permanently set up isn’t ideal.
For this reason, the majority of treadmills include a folding feature.
It’s important to double-check. Just because it’s now the norm doesn’t mean every machine is foldable.
Generally speaking, the higher-end treadmills with large decks are less likely to be foldable.
Some machines fold flat, others at an angle, so note the folded dimensions and measure your storage space.
Motor power is normally reported in HP or CHP.
HP (horsepower) is usually the highest output level, while CHP (continuous horsepower) is the constant energy level.
For example, a treadmill advertised as 3 HP might operate at 1.5 HP while walking and only peak at 3 HP at top speeds or inclines.
A machine advertised as 3 CHP means that the motor is constantly operating at this level. It will often go higher than this, but only when needed.
Motor power must increase for steeper inclines, higher top speeds, and heavier users.
As you might expect, a more powerful motor should last longer. There tends to be a correlation between the CHP and the motor warranty.
Variable incline percentage is a key feature for challenging and varied workouts.
Most mid-budget treadmills ($1,000 – $2,000) include 12% – 15% inclines.
This helps vary workout intensity to mimic running or walking uphill.
Some treadmills even include decline settings. The NordicTrack Commercial 2450 and X32i both include a decline option of -3% and -6%, respectively.
Maximum User Weight
Many of us take up cardio to lose weight, so we probably all have a good idea of our starting weight.
While most treadmills will accommodate users of 300 lbs +, cheaper models typically allow a lower max. user weight of 200 – 250 lbs.
It might seem harsh, but heavier users will need to invest more. The running machine’s ability to facilitate larger users depends on the component quality and motor power.
The motor must be stronger to power a greater mass. You’ll have to spend more than $1,500 for a maximum user weight of 375 – 400 lbs.
In the $1,000 – $2,000 price category, most treadmills reach a top speed of 12 mph.
If you’re spending this kind of money and it doesn’t reach 12 mph, you’re probably not getting good value.
For machines that exceed 12 mph, you’re getting more than your money’s worth!
As we previously mentioned, you won’t need more than 6 mph for walking. We’d advise 10 mph as a minimum for jogging and 12 mph for running and HIIT.
Some treadmills come with incredible warranties.
The Sole F80 and Sole F85 are great examples. Both include lifetime cover for the frame, motor, and deck.
With these warranties, you can feel confident in the running machine’s quality.
Be wary of expensive machines offering limited warranties. You’ll often notice customer reviews complaining of the motor giving out.
Ideally, a machine in the $1,500 – $2,000 should come with a lifetime frame warranty and at least 10 years for the motor.
If you’re spending less – in the $1,000 – $1,500, you should see at least 10 years for the frame and 5 years for the motor – otherwise, you’re not getting good value.
Console & Interactivity
NordicTrack and ProForm Fitness (operated by Icon Fitness) have blazed a trail for interactive workouts with the iFit app.
While workout apps are not new, integrated consoles are taking things to the next level.
One of the biggest criticism of Sole treadmills is the dated LCD monitors.
Sole Fitness has recently added a tablet holder so that users can now attach their devices and work out interactively.
Unfortunately, this falls short of what iFit offers.
The large, HD touchscreen monitors found on products such as the ProForm Pro 5000 and ProForm Pro 9000 allow the trainer to adjust speed and incline automatically.
The result? A fully-immersive workout with no need to manually change the settings yourself.
But do you need it? No. At the end of the day, so long as the treadmill allows you to run or walk as required, it does its job.
However, if cardio workouts bore you – as they bore me – then variety is key. And with over 17,000 workouts across global locations, iFit is the kind of thing I need to stay interested.
Treadmills regularly include built-in sound systems, bottle holders, and cooling fans – but not always.
We’d expect a fan, transport wheels, a folding mechanism, and a sound system in the $1,000 – $2,000 treadmill range.
Reviewing & Rating Treadmills
Once you know the type of machine and features you’ll need, you’ll have to compare suitable models.
This can be tedious and frustrating – especially when you read conflicting customer reviews.
But there’s no need to worry. As well as this treadmill buying guide, Fitness Savvy has developed the Savvy Score to help customers gauge which machines are worth the price tag.
Read more about how we test products, and combine our findings with customer feedback and spec data to calculate the most reliable score on the net.